South Korea plans to waive visa processing fees for Chinese tourists through the end of December and increase flights between the two countries, weeks after China lifted its overall ban on group tours to South Korea for the first time in six years.
The measures announced Monday are part of efforts officials of both countries said would “reinforce economic cooperation” and warm up people-to-people ties.
Nationals from People’s Republic of China (PRC) still need a tourist visa for South Korea, but the new measure would exempt them from the visa fee of about $13.60.
South Korea has been hoping to rejuvenate its economy by promoting tourism. Earlier this year, Seoul lifted the requirement for a Korean Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) for citizens from twenty-two countries and regions, including the United States, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. From April 1 to December 31, they do not need to apply for K-ETA during short-term visits to South Korea for business or tourism.
This week, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Seoul and Beijing have agreed to continue promoting “cultural and people-to-people exchanges” through channels such as China’s resumption of group tours, as well as the upcoming Asian Games to be hosted by the Chinese city of Hangzhou from September 23 to October 8. The Asian Games are a sports event held every four years involving athletes from all over Asia.
In 2017, China banned all organized group tours to South Korea in the wake of Seoul’s decision to install the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD). China contended the system’s radar might be employed for surveillance into Chinese territory and gathering intelligence.
A representative from Hana Tour, the biggest travel agency in Korea, said it’s still “too early to tell” the effect of the new government measures.
“In fact, my understanding is, Korean tour packages have not been actively booked yet in China,” that representative told VOA on Monday.
As Seoul is eyeing economic recovery, more tax-fee shopping is also being offered to Chinese tourists. By presenting their passport at designated shops, foreign tourists would be eligible for a value-added tax (VAT) refund.
The maximum purchase to receive a tax refund at stores would be raised from the current 500,000 Korean Won (KRW) to 700,000. If tourists make their payments through Chinese payment systems such as Alipay, Unionpay or through Wechat, they only need to pay the price without the VAT. For purchase more than 700,000 KRW, foreign tourists can get their tax refund from service desks at airports or ferry terminals.
China is South Korea’s top trading partner. But the bilateral relationship has experienced its ups and downs in recent years over regional security and other geopolitical issues. It is also reflected in recent public opinion polls that showed South Koreans have more favorable impressions of the United States and Japan than China.
On August,31, South Korea’s foreign minister Park Jin spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. The two agreed to “actively promote high-level exchanges and communication.” They also agreed on holding consultations such as the Foreign and Defense Meeting, the Committee on People-to-People Exchanges, and the Track 1.5 Dialogue.
Park requested Wang’s “special attention to maintaining a stable and favorable investment environment for Korean companies in China,” according to a readout released by South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
China has denounced the trilateral Camp David summit in mid-August, where leaders from the United States, South Korea and Japan pledged for a unified response during a regional crisis, as seeking a bloc security at expense of others.
Wang said the growth of relations between China and South Korea “should not be influenced by a third party,” without naming the United States.
Both China and South Korea should “guard against interference from external factors” and “refrain from drawing ideological lines,” said Wang, according to the Chinese readout.
Lee Juhyun contributed to this report.